To quote a common truism - we live in strange times. Deep fakes, memecoins, and conspiracy theories are the cultural language of the moment, encapsulating an era where nothing is true and everything is possible. Time seems to be relentlessly accelerating while also stuck in a strange loop. New ideas appear as quickly as they disappear, and old aesthetics are ever-continuously reanimated by a capitalist leviathan eating its own tail. It’s all confusing, manic and hopelessly complex.

Grindcore’s arrival in the mid-to-late 80s mirrored the early symptoms of this manic accelerationism, providing a savage rebuttal to all of the ills that came with a period of time soon to be termed "the end of history". In its relentless pace and ferocity, along with its strong moral heart, grindcore seemed to bait the aggressive capitalist mentality of its era, as if saying "we can do what you’re doing but faster, with more hostility and with an actual conscience."

Unfortunately, the world stubbornly refused to heed grindcore’s warnings. All of the injustices that Napalm Death, Terrorizer and Extreme Noise Terror rallied against either still exist or have since been greatly exacerbated. Fortunately, the genre has never given up the fight. Although it has grown and developed, a strong code of ethics and moral righteousness is still omnipresent in the grind scene. Even today’s apolitical grindcore bands possess a tangible sense of liberal freedom and understanding that artistic barriers are nothing more than artificial constructs.

Below are six essential grindcore releases from the first half of 2021. In their madness and ferocity, their adherence to conventions, and their obliteration of boundaries, we can see something of our time and ourselves, like gazing into the splinters of a broken mirror.

—Tom Morgan

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Knoll - Interstice
Self-Released
February 26, 2021

Interstice is a work of almost apocalyptic intensity. Its twelve tracks push grindcore to its furthest and most frantic limits, utilising grand ferocity, wild technicality and punishing harsh noise. Knoll have cited the influence of avant-black metal weirdos Portal alongside the usual fare of Nails and Full Of Hell - an amalgamation that does a good job of explaining the head-scrambling, labyrinthine tone of the Nashville six-piece’s debut album.

What gives Interstice a real cutting edge is the level of artistry that Knoll commit to the project. From its Ethan McCarthy (Primitive Man) designed cover art to its dense, cryptic lyrics, Interstice sees its creators execute their vision with total and commanding success. In their most savage moments, Knoll achieve an almost transcendent level of white-knuckle intensity. "Inherent of Life" is a groovy, riff-lead leviathan, and "Lambent Urn" is pure grind punishment, while "Scattered Prism" flirts with math and doom in service of a strange, cosmic hybrid.

Balancing out these tracks are well-realised inclusions of harsh noise and eerie, foreboding atmospheres. Tracks like "Door to Moil" and "Myr" are more than just ambient interludes, they form another hallowed corridor in Knoll’s grand labyrinth, another tentacle protruding from the giant cosmic grind beast that is Interstice. This is the extreme music of the future, and to witness its birth is a glorious sight.

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Jarhead Fertilizer - Product of My Environment
Closed Casket Activities
February 26, 2021

Jarhead Fertilizer’s Product Of My Environment is a more blunt-force and direct, though no less versatile proposition. The Maryland four-piece—who take their name from a Dystopia track—craft linear and precise brutality that effortlessly shifts gears between grindcore, death metal and powerviolence. With filthy riffs that take cues from the likes of Suffocation and Dying Fetus, along with vocals that frequently digress into goregrind-style gutturals, Product Of My Environment provides a uniquely ugly, hammer-blow exercise in deathgrind viscerality.

Jarhead Fertilizer’s lyrical preoccupations are built around the familiar streetwise concerns of traditional crust punk and grind. Transgressive themes of drug addictions, mental illness and religion abound, underpinning the frantic, gruesome music with some potent insights. The "Criticize what you don’t understand" line in "Trials And Tribulations" is properly cutting, as is the warped religious imagery present throughout "An End To Your Sacred World".

It seems like an odd thing to say about such a willfully-grisly album, but there’s a genuine sophistication at work underneath all of Product Of My Environment's ugliness. The tempo changes, riff transitions and unpredictable structures are expertly executed, like a finely-tuned engine ticking away inside a beaten-up, graffiti-tagged old car. Jarhead Fertlizer’s debut for the ever-reliable Closed Casket Activities label is an enormous success, both for its musical execution and its vicious portrayal of society's grimy underbelly.

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Narakah - Blast Haven
Secret Swarm Records
February 12, 2021

A cacophonous mix of samples, effects and ferocious grind, Narakah’s Blast Haven is a mini-masterpiece of conceptual extreme metal. As equally inspired by anime, comics and video games as boundary-pushers Discordance Axis and Pig Destroyer, Blast Haven paints vivid and strange science-fiction images across its brief twelve minute runtime. From the dystopian hellscape of "Samurai Dreams" to the forty-second alien tale "Lazar Ritual Sodomy," Blast Haven weaves together an enormous range of influences to form a distinct and colourful grindcore tableau.

Blast Haven is an album defined by contrasts. Intriguing, the longest track on the album "Cynocephalus (Destro’s End)", clocks in at a relatively-gargantuan two minutes and forty-seven seconds - nearly twice as long as the next longest track. It’s a bold inclusion for a centerpiece, however its chilling sub bass and creepy atmosphere make for an evocative and other-worldly scene-setter. Following track "Black Guard" is the total opposite. At just one minute long, it’s a work of pure, undiluted grind chaos, featuring punishing blasts, subtle compositional intelligence and a heart-racing final breakdown.

Blast Haven is an intoxicating combination of relentless extremity and off-kilter, cinematic soundscapes. Narakah even play some enjoyable jump-scare tricks by following quiet, dread-soaked interludes with ferocious and unexpected bursts into aggression. This wild mixture makes Blast Haven continuously surprising, and adds up to one of the most idiosyncratic works to have come out of the grindcore genre in quite some years.

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Socioclast - Socioclast
Carbonized Records
February 19, 2021

One of the strongest ‘pure’ grindcore albums released so far this year, Socioclast’s self-titled debut possesses an uncanny, timeless quality, as if spawned in some alternate grind dimension. Here, in the hallowed chambers like those of Socioclast’s cover, the high priests alchemically concoct spot-on generic brutality. Kinetic drums, filthy guitar tones and requisite evil vocals are all thrown into the warped brew, from which bursts forth the monster that is Socioclast.

The California trio’s impressive debut packs an enormous punch. The album’s tone rarely shifts from white-hot, pressure-cooked ferocity, with little-to-no room given to breathing space or expansive atmospheres. Around half of the sixteen tracks run at under a minute in length, and all are stellar examples of grindcore’s ‘epics in miniature’ philosophy. From "Archaic Remains" stop-start builds of tension to "Hippasus" sledgehammer-force riffs and subtle shifts in rhythm, Socioclast utilise the genre’s limits of time and space with the panache of grindcore veterans.

Socioclast walks a fine line between timelessness and retro. It never feels outdated or backwards-looking, however nor does it bend the genre into any new shapes. Instead, it exists according to its own separate temporality - concocted in the halls of the grind dimension, but gradually bleeding through the void into our universe.

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Kill the Con Man - Operation Just Cause
Riot Ready Records
March 26, 2021

As mentioned, grindcore emerged as a backlash against global capitalist domination. From Napalm Death to Nasum to Wormrot - sticking it to corporations, exploitation and corruption has long been a key ideological standpoint of the genre. L.A. trio Kill The Con Man are the latest band in this righteously-angry lineage, utilising a pummelling, foaming-mouth style of grindcore to attack all the myriad ills of contemporary society.

"We See You (ACAB)" is an incendiary addition to the pantheon of tracks that share that acronym’s sentiment, "Messiah Complex" assaults the self-centred capitalist mentality, while "Patriots" rips apart the titular concept’s inherent contradictions. Each track is as accurate as a laser-guided missile strike, incorporating occasional death metal melodies and rhythms but never straying far from its short, sharp and highly pointed barrage.

On 1989’s "After World Obliteration", seminal grindcore act Terrorizer bemoaned: "Society/Pay the price/Worldwide/Dream has gone", eerily foreshadowing Francis Fukuyama’s "end of history" thesis by several years. Could the L.A. pioneers ever have imagined that bands like Kill The Con Man would be lambasting the same malaise over three decades later? Kill The Con Man’s anger may not exactly be original, but this familiarity gives it its own sense of vitality. As Operation Just Cause’s opener "Pit Rules" puts it: "There is nothing more important than to fight".

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Sugar Wounds - Calico Dreams
Self-Released
March 25, 2021

It seems appropriate to end this list with a release that looks towards the future. Sugar Wounds is the one-man project of Myrtle Beach resident Matt Millar. That much is known. Otherwise the project is surrounded by an air of mystery, aptly so for such a wild and hard to pin down project. Sugar Wounds’ sound obliterates genres, it could be ‘cybergrind’, ‘blackened screamo’ or the most appropriate, yet still not all-encompassing enough - ‘grindgaze’.

Millar takes the hazy, textured and melancholic quality of shoegaze and glazes it atop the requisite blasts and shrieks of grindcore. However his musical versatility means that Calico Dreams frequently transcends these genres, becoming instead a bold exercise in singular extreme metal. The title of vibrant and eclectic opener "Every Color" makes clear Sugar Wounds’ philosophy - this is music that intends to capture the entire range of the synaesthetic spectrum.

While there’s no strict political ideology being espoused on Calico Dreams, Millar’s sense of artistic freedom is palpable. Whereas tracks like "Combat Wombat" and "I QUIT" are familiar, if idiosyncratic, grind tracks, they’re balanced out by album highlights "Semi-Burnt Sugar" and "Goodnight, Midnight" which expand and warp the genre’s limits, sometimes even dissipating them completely. Calico Dreams achieves a state of profound liberation and freedom, which is perhaps grindcore’s ultimate philosophical directive.

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